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it takes a transit village

By enelson
Friday, November 17th, 2006 at 4:36 pm in BART, ferries, Planning.

256_transitvillage.jpgIn spite of my Capitol Corridor train stopping, it seemed, between every station to let other trains pass, I managed to attend most of a background discussion this morning on transit villages at the Metropolitan Transportation Commission’s well-furnished offices at Lake Merritt.

Of course, the regional trasnsportation planners have an abbreviation: TODs, for transit-oriented development.

These marvels of social engineering are the best weapon America seems to have against sprawl, with the anticipated side benefit of reducing congestion and smog.

The idea is simple: Build a densely packed mix of homes, shops and buisinesses around a transit hub, like the West Dublin-Pleasanton BART station now being built, and you will create a community that wont need cars — much.

The MTC adopted a policy of supporting such development in July 2005. By supporting, I mean linking the planning strategy with transit development. If you want a BART station in Livermore or Santa Clara, listen up. 

Today they also published studies that back up this idea with demograpic data.

One, people who live close to transit actually use it. Those within a quarter-mile of a rail or ferry station are four times as likely to use transit than others. That’s significant, but when you consider that only about 10 percent of Bay Area residents commute to work via transit, it’s not huge.

If you both live AND work near a transit stop, 42 percent of you are transit-oriented animals, if you do neither, that percentage drops to 4.

And here’s my favorite factoid: If you enjoy the above advantage and work in San Francisco and live outside of that famous city, 70 percent of your commute trips are via transit.

Another interesting fact was that a third of households near transit are zero-vehicle households, which is three times the national average.

What I wanted to know was, who’s going to populate these new transit villages? Will they have kids? Where will those kids go to school?

The first thing I heard, from an actual commissioner, was that the focus is on younger residents and older, empty-nester types. When the older folks move out of their low-density housing that’s not too far from the urban core and jobs, that will allow families to move closer in and not have to commute so far.

The second thing was that the developments are closely coordinated with local school districts and that a certain amount of families with kids do gravitate toward these transit-, bike- and pedestrian-friendly communities.

But the numbers show that only 29 percent of households near rail stations or ferry terminals have kids. That was the lowest of any grouping based on distance from transit hubs, the highest, at 45 percent of overall households, being in rural areas.

Even in the enlightened Bay Area, most people with kids are going to stay as far away from transit as possible, drive the kids to school and endure a major freeway trek to work.

Rendering from

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2 Responses to “it takes a transit village”

  1. South Bay Resident Says:

    The success of transit villages has been mixed. Locally, we have the Fruitvale transit village, which is a mixed success at best – empty and failing shops, creeping decay – and stories like that are surprisingly common. Several of the transit villages near Portland are also miserable failures (Orenco station, for example).

    Research into the residents of transit villages in Portland has also shown them to be no more likely to use transit than residents of the surrounding area. This is in contrast to residents of older residential areas that have good transit access, who do use transit at much higher rates.

    Further, transit villages worsen congestion in their immediate neighborhoods because most of the trips that residents who live in them take are not by transit and the surrounding infrastructure rarely has the capacity to handle the additional residents.

    There are good things to say about transit villages as well. They do provide cover for developers to build denser housing than would otherwise be allowed, which works to reduce the bay area’s housing shortage.

  2. transit-dependent Says:

    I think the percentage of people with kids living near transit is off based on the depopulation of San Francisco (just because parents are fleeing transit-oriented SF neighborhoods doesn’t mean that there’s an inherent problem with kids and transit; maybe the problem is SF). Certainly Rockridge, the model of a transit village, is extremely kid-friendly. I don’t think it’s fair to call Fruitvale TV a failure just because the much of the retail isn’t doing well – the surrounding area is has a less-than-zero retail vacancy rate (because of sidewalk sales), and the Unity Council is planning a larger second phase which will be primarily residential. Don’t forget – young adults who move to a transit village and give up their cars will probably have kids eventually.

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